Friday, November 28, 2014

Anti-trolling guide

Be aware that message boards are swarming with pro-Kremlin contributors, very likely paid in organised trolling operations. They will spread disinformation which denies the following facts:

-Russia has invaded Ukraine using undeclared, hybrid war

-Ukraine was peaceful for 23 years before this operation began-repeat:there was no war, regardless of whether there was a pro-western or pro-Russian government.

-a majority across Ukraine supported Ukraine's independence and unity before the invasion (now even more do!). This majority includes millions of Russian-speakers who do not want Putin's 'protection'.

-Russia staged a 'referendum at gunpoint' in Crimea, and similar 'elections' recently in Donbas and Luhansk. These lack any democratic legtimacy whatsoever (in any case, what sense is there in a vote to join a country that's not a democracy?)

-since the annexation, Crimean Tatar activists have been tortured and sometimes killed, the Crimean Tatar leader has been exiled from his homeland, and Russians there have even held Nazi-style book burnings of Ukrainian books.

-Euromaidan was, over a period of several weeks, a peaceful demonstration which did, at its fringes, turn violent (long after Yanukovych had already resorted to violence). The protests were visibly home grown-you only had to visit the makeshift camp to see that there was no sophisticated CIA covert op at work.

-America, far from promoting 'regime change' in Ukraine, has pursued over several years an appeasement policy towards Russia, including the 'reset' policy, scrapping the missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and failing to respond robustly to the Russian aggression on Georgian territory in 2008 that untimately lead to the Russia-Georgia war. The EU has done little to encourage Ukraine's European ambitions since the Orange Revolution in 2004, refusing to consider any prospect of EU membership for Ukraine, so the idea that Ukraine's revolution was a 'western-backed coup' doesn't stack up.

-Ukraine's coup was in 2010. Although, President Yanukovych was democratically elected, he proceeded to unconstitutionally take control of Ukraine's parliament by paying deputies to switch sides, and taking control of other state organs such as the Constitutional Court and judiciary in general (hence the Tymoshenko imprisonment). By late 2013, Ukraine's political system had been thoroughly hollowed out and there was little democracy left to speak of.

-It was Yanukovych who started killing his own citizens by shooting 100 dead on Instytutska St. in February this year. There's is a body of evidence that Russia was directly involved in it. A visit to Instytutska St. and a quick inspection of the bullet holes shows that the shots were fired from government buildings. Putin also is responsible for the deaths of his own Russian citizens on Ukrainian soil-estimates of Russian military casualties in Russia's hybrid war on Ukraine number in excess of 4000.

-If Russia left now, the war ends. Simple as that.
Not to say that the Ukrainians are angels. We all know about the record of corruption over Ukraine's 23 year history but, unlike in Russia, Ukrainian society is taking action to at least try to do something about it. The far right in Ukraine is vocal but small, as evidenced by the recent elections which saw barely half a dozen far right deputies elected to parliament, a lot less than in many European countries at the moment. The issue of civilian casualties must be discussed, but put in the context that Russia's proxies position themselves in residential areas precisely to paint this picture. As stated, if Russia pulls the plug on this operation, the fighting will soon stop.

If most of the comments down here aren't worth reading, these examples might give you an idea why:
Fake Ukrainian news sites are being run out of the same office as where the Russians who flood comments section work.
Someone in Russian Foreign Ministry spends his time editing Wikipedia articles about Eastern Ukraine
Monday last week French paper Le Figaro declined to publish the results of a survey on whether to deliver the Mistral ships to Russia, citing massive automated trolling originating in Russia. Number for yes rose from 60% to 78% overnight...

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Quiet Elections

Published in New Eastern Europe 26th September 2014

As winter approaches, Ukraine moves to plug its democratic legitimacy gap.

You could forgive the residents of Kiev for having other things on their minds besides the upcoming elections to the Verkhovna Rada. With gas deliveries from Russia having long halted, many Kievans have been living without hot water for the past couple of months as the country tries to fill its gas storage facilities. The annual switching on of the central communal heating system has been delayed two weeks to the beginning of November. Gazprom has reduced its gas deliveries to those countries providing a potential lifeline to Ukraine via a reverse flow, Poland and Slovakia. A Russian government advisor, Sergey Markov, has even predicted that Ukraine’s government will collapse in the winter. As with the prophecies of Ukraine’s descent into “civil war”, Russian predictions are often statements of intent. Ukraine’s government needs to be in the best shape possible if Russia is going to attempt to freeze them out, so questions about its legitimacy matter.

Ukraine is also a country at war. From the mobile mechanisms that enable donations to the Ukrainian army to the men standing on the road collecting money to relentlessly paint the country’s railings and street furniture yellow and blue in defiance of the would-be occupiers, the war is ever present. Where you might have expected to see early discussion about the upcoming elections, TV news reports have unsurprisingly been dominated by the daily national and personal tragedies of the conflict. This has led some commentators to question the wisdom of holding a vote in such circumstances. The presidential elections also took place in a similar situation with election coverage slotted in between the latest news about the Anti-Terror Operation.

President Petro Poroshenko’s strong mandate from this election and his growing reputation with the West have put him in a strong position, although it is bound to have diminished somewhat following the toxic, but perhaps unavoidable, Minsk agreement and the delay to the EU-Ukraine trade agreement (what was simultaneously “signed” September 16th in Kiev and Strasbourg was in fact only around one-fifth of the original Association Agreement text). Beyond the presidency, Ukraine’s democratic credentials don’t look so clever. Ukrainian society has had a new injection of civic activism and engagement, but this is not reflected in the country’s parliament. Unsuspecting politicians may now find themselves being “caught” by journalists in interviews or thrown into skips, but their existence in parliament is not so different as to what it was before.

This situation goes back to the real coup d’etat of Ukrainian politics, the parliamentary coup of 2010, where the Constitutional Court, which had previously ruled otherwise, ruled that deputies were free to move between parliamentary factions. Whilst this is entirely acceptable in constituency-based systems like the UK, Ukraine’s deputies had been elected on a closed list system, so changing factions was like your vote growing legs and walking away from you, and hence Yanukovych induced deputies from the Orange parties of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to form a loyalist parliament on which to build his power vertical. The turncoat deputies were dubbed “tushki”, or animal carcasses.

The victory of the EuroMaidan might have ushered in a new era of openness and civic engagement but, as Yanukovych fled the country, something not very dissimilar took place in the current parliament. As the emergency government formed around Prime Minister Aresiny Yatsenyuk and Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, deputies, particularly those from the Party of Regions, hurried to either join the new bloc or become independent. Thus, whilst Poroshenko is the legitimately elected President, the parliament we see today is in fact little more than a group of “reverse tushki”. So whilst the new government is clearly no “junta”, it certainly has a democratic legitimacy problem that successful parliamentary elections are absolutely vital to solve.  

The current parliament has also inherited its predecessor’s poor standards of parliamentary procedure. The practice of piano player voting, where deputies push the voting buttons of their missing colleagues, still continues. The recent vote on the ceasefire law was held in a closed session and rumours abound that the screen that shows the voting results might even have been tampered with. Perhaps there is an argument that in the time of war certain measures must be pushed through (many democracies experience a temporary democratic deficit in times of war), but such actions are unlikely to give Ukraine’s democracy a clean bill of health.

In addition to the oncoming freeze and parliament’s democratic inadequacies, Poroshenko must be aware that his initial popularity can quickly nosedive in Ukraine. The support for Yushchenko had all but evaporated within six months as president. Therefore, Poroshenko must see the need to use what momentum he still has as quickly as possible. Current polls back his bloc to do well, despite recent controversial decisions.

There are some ways in which the elections will not be a departure from the Yanukovych era. They will be held under the same election law as the 2012 poll, a mixture of party list and geographical constituency mandates that was designed to skew the vote in Yanukovych’s favour. Clearly, elections for the electoral districts in the occupied territories will not take place, meaning out of 450 seats, 15-20 will be empty. In one sense, maintaining those “empty chairs” would be a powerful symbol that these regions remain, in the sense of international law, part of Ukraine. Ukraine must feel a duty to continue to represent those regions in some way. This is perhaps reflected in the fact that Mustafa Dzhemilev, exiled head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, itself now facing the prospect of exile, is on Poroshenko’s electoral list.

As in the previous elections, oligarchic clans are still likely to figure prominently, but this time different clans stand to benefit. Whereas at previous elections the Donbas clan came to the fore, they are now variously exiled or in the quagmire of the Russian-sponsored breakaway entity now being established there, although some are rumoured to be funding the Party of Development which is emerging from the ruins of the Party of Regions. It will be fascinating to see the extent to which Russian aggression and occupation have sliced through Ukraine’s traditional pro-western/pro-Russian cleavage. In the new parliament, Poroshenko and Dnipropetrovsk-based Ihor Kolomoyskyi look like the potential big winners. Parties and party groupings continue to be fluid even with just a month left to go. Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR has merged into Poroshenko’s group of pragmatists, whilst others collect around Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party or the slowly climbing People’s Front, Yatsenyuk’s new party. Figures from Ukraine’s past have apparently been manoeuvring themselves onto party lists by various means, but this will be a gamble, assuming the vote is substantially free and fair. Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party may conceivably even struggle to enter parliament.

Each western-leaning party will also have a handful of Maidan activists towards the top of its lists who may or may not turn out to be capable politicians, but should at least look on parliament’s procedural deficiencies in a new light. However, despite a myriad of options on the ballot paper, the party system arguably still will not be offering choices that truly reflect voters’ needs and preferences. Large shares of the vote at the previous election for the far right Svoboda and the first banned, now unbanned, Communists alarmed observers in 2012, but suggest that for many Ukrainians ideology is important, just as for other Europeans. The persistence of so-called “virtual parties” built around clans or individuals does little address this need.

It seems that Ukrainians continue to misguidedly seek the “good politician”, whereas evidence of the reform process across Central Eastern Europe tells us that in most cases it is the political system, not the quality of its politicians that is the decisive factor in reform-making, specifically the parliamentary system of the government. If Ukraine is to truly succeed, its political system needs to be a radical departure from anything seen thus far in the post-Soviet space.

As things stand, expect a quiet election as Ukrainians continue to fight and die for their country and for Ukraine’s political system to take incremental steps forward, if they can survive the winter.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Debunking so-called 'stop the war' coalition's '5 facts'

This is a brief response to debunk the '5 facts' article the so-called 'stop the war' coalition posted today. Although it barely dignifies a response, I feel duty-bound.

For the record, I opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion and supported the work they did then, but if Putin succeeds, with the help of poorly informed UK citizens susceptible to Russia's propaganda machine, we'll end up with war that makes Iraq 2003 look like a playground fight.

Point 1: Countries joined NATO of their own accord. Why were countries like Poland & the Baltics so keen to join? Because they understand Russia much better than you do

Point 2:How can an organisation that purports to be left wing prop up Russian ethno-nationalist arguments? People in Ukraine are from a variety of backgrounds but want to be Ukrainian-ethnicity is not the issue. A great many Russian-speakers living in Ukraine don't want to live in a dictatorship like Russia or Belarus.

Point 3:The EU's Association Agreement was a 'do minimum' option by Brussels,who for 10 years offered Ukraine virtually nothing.

Point 4:more than half a million protested in Maidan entirely peacefully.Plenty of people wanted to see Yanukovych go, not just far right fringe. What you don't realise is that the 'coup' was Yanukovych's. Upon seizing power in 2010 he illegally took control of parliament & gutted the country's institutions

Point 5:How do you account for 23 years of peace in Ukraine that were only broken 'coincidentally' with the arrival of Russian fighters & arms?

So basically, the '5 facts' don't stack up.

P.S. The article references another article by Stephen Cohen, who some may not be aware is a notorious Putin apologist, irrespective of people killed or planes shot down etc.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Crimea adds to reasons for nations to skip 2018 & 2022 World Cups

With FIFA credibility at rock bottom, Russia and Qatar both morally untenable, and that winter World Cup, should our nations even go to 2018 & 2022? And what's Crimea got to do with it?

FIFA knows it's virtually impossible to boycott a World Cup, unless you're a housewife who goes to one of those World Cup matinée showings at the local cinema. Despite a barrage of criticism of FIFA's shady goings on, Gary Lineker most recently getting in on the act, FIFA, rather like Vladimir Putin, look set to carry on regardless.

There were already many large clouds gathering over FIFA before this summer. As John Oliver's first class putdown of FIFA on the eve of this year's tournament basically said, if you're a football fan it's in a way better not to know. Brazil 2014 was, on the pitch, a resounding success, with some compelling games. Off it, the picture didn't look so clever. Many Brazilians had put the boot in on the project long before their team's infamous 7-1 defeat.

The FIFA bribery scandal is covered elsewhere by those that know far more about it than me, but suffice it to say that, if Qatar is guilty of giving bribes to get the 2022 World Cup, and not forgetting that Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup at the exact same FIFA Congress in 2010, some further dots may need to be joined up there. Franz Beckenbauer's suspension for not complying with FIFA's internal investigation has something of the air of a Putin-style scapegoating of some low-ranking official.  

The Qatar decision has brought with it all manner of strife. At present FIFA appears to be procrastinating over whether to upset Europe's clubs and associations and their calendars by holding a winter World Cup, or whether to chance the fate of millionaire footballers in the summer desert temperatures, which seems increasingly unlikely. Again, many are doing a far better job than me highlighting the dreadful human rights situation in the country and the horrendous working conditions of the migrant workers who are building the facilities.

There was already a lobby against the holding of the 2018 World Cup in Russia which had been exponentially growing with Russia's annexation of Crimea and its instigation of terrorism and armed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, added to the remnants of the anti-Sochi campaign appalled by Russia's gay rights situation. Then, with the shooting down of MH17, citizens and families of nationals from Holland, Australia, Malaysia and the UK were suddenly thrust into the world Ukrainians have been living in since November last year, and Chechens very much longer. All of a sudden politicians from those countries were talking tough about taking the World Cup away from Russia. Who's to say if they will keep it up?

Russia 2018 also faces practical problems. Visiting teams basing themselves in Crimea looks a non-starter as non-recognition policy is already beginning to restrict the ability of airlines to fly there. Russia itself is already starting to turn the screw on World Cup sponsor McDonald's (even Coca Cola is not safe, not to mention iPhones and iPads). Russia is busy banning products and this is likely to push up prices. Airlines may not be able to fly over Siberia to get to the tournament. After Euromaidan, political change in Russia is also not out of the question. Somebody somewhere in FIFA must be a bit jittery about all this, but publicly there seems little concern.

Many believe that there is about as much chance of FIFA moving the 2018 or 2022 World Cups as there is of Formula 1 missing out Bahrain or Sochi from its race calendar. At least F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone is blunt, if morally bankrupt, on human rights issues affecting host countries, whilst FIFA loftily proclaims that the World Cup can 'bring positive change'. If that's the kind of 'positive change' the Sochi Winter Olympics brought, then sorry, we don't want it.

So, think about this, in particular if you are, for example, the English FA. You have already been deprived of hosting a World Cup in what was quite possibly a corrupt voting process, and your leagues and clubs are not happy at all about the impending 2022 winter World Cup. FIFA has taken hold of world football when in fact it is the national leagues and the Champions' League which are the sport's bread and butter. Couldn't the various associations quite easily get together and pledge to run a rival competition for 2018 & 2022?

I would personally be more than happy to see Europe's great sides (Germany, Holland etc.) take a decision for the greater good of football and humanity, and simply decide not to send their teams to either of these World Cups (I'd also like to see the USA, Australia and England do the same, but if it was only those 3 most would assume they just hadn't qualified). The English FA seem more worried about demolishing the English lower leagues with Premier League B teams than whether or not the World Cup will be played in climatic or political conditions safe for their players. As with all things it seems, Germany is the key. If the defending champions didn't show up, what sort of World Cup would that be? Kazakhstan v Vietnam anyone?

Doubting even that as the force to topple FIFA's falkekirche, what about the law? Is there a legal basis to at least get Russia stripped of the 2018 World Cup and hope the corruption issues are exposed in time to spare us a World Cup under the blankets in 2022? The answer may lie in Crimea.

Crimea: What happened to FIFA and UEFA's own rules?

Whilst not the most illustrious footballing outpost, the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea is another moral test case for both FIFA and European football governing body UEFA. That's because, a few years ago both organisations made some rules, which they enforced too.

As recently as 2010, France was threatened over what FIFA calls political interference in football. Some countries, such as Brunei and Kenya, have even had their football associations and national teams suspended over it. Presumably hosting a World Cup under such circumstances would be out of the question. Early reports after Crimea annexation, regarding Tavriya Simferopol in particular, suggested that, until the UN rules that Crimea is part of Russia, the clubs would prefer to stay in the Ukrainian league. However, one of the earliest voices, back in late March when the dust was still settling, to claim that Crimean teams would be playing in the Russian league was Russia's Sports Minister, Vitaly Mukto (FIFA later claimed they had given no such consent). A FIFA letter as recently as early June seemed to confirm what we all know-Crimean football is Ukrainian football. The clubs were affiliated to the Ukrainian FA, so their fate was none of Russia's business.

The solution has in fact been to unceremoniously kill off two football clubs, Tavriya Simferopol and FK Sevastopol, and place three new entities into the Russian 2nd division, created under 'Russian law'. What 'Russian law' means in a territory not internationally recognised as Russia is an open question. As Russia is not a democracy, we will probably never know precisely what forces were brought to bear, but it looks as if political interference, which has pervaded every aspect of life in Crimea since March, looks highly likely.

For some, the issue has been kicked into the long grass by the fact that whilst Tavriya played in European competition as recently as 2010, the peninsula's fans are now unlikely to see European football there for the foreseeable future, but this is not just about which country the team represents in European competition. If the move is allowed to stand, what will be the fallout for football in general?

That's where UEFA comes in. When Evian were promoted to the French top division, and lacking the facilities to match, they more than once sought to play home games just across the border at the much flashier Stade de Genève in Geneva, a request which UEFA denied in 2013 on the following very clear basis:
"Though sympathetic to the predicament of the club, Platini pointed out UEFA regulations do not allow clubs to play their games in national competitions outside the confines of their country's borders."
So that seems very clear. Even if one is sympathetic to Russia's wishes (and, by the way, none of us are), rules are rules. Crimea is not internationally recognised as part of Russia and UEFA is an international organisation.

Of course there are exceptions that every football anorak knows. Teams from Lichtenstein and San Marino play in neighbours' national leagues, Berwick Rangers are based in England but play in the Scottish league, and most notably, Swansea City play in the English Premier League with a handful of clubs scattered further down the English football pyramid. However, that's no justification for the Russian league's move. First of all, such a move was never made unilaterally by a single association. In fact, what was once perhaps unfairly dubbed the Comical League of Wales (Konica the unfortunate inaugural sponsor) came into being over strained relations over the very issues of where teams from a particular country play, and the possible knock-on threat to Wales's national side. All but four of the Welsh clubs in the English league were ordered to join the Welsh league, and many played in exile in England as the dispute rumbled on. 

In the end it was recognised that Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham would be cutting their own throats giving up playing in the English league to play in basically a semi-professional league, rather like Tavriya and Sevastopol will be doing playing 'Torpedo Armavir' and 'Mashuk-KMV' instead of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, not to mention the 12 hour wait for the ferry from Kerch. I bet their fans are really excited. Many fans, most notably Tavriya's ultras (who were loyal backers of the Euromaidan protests) have no desire to watch Russian lower league football.

Alas there's not much optimism that UEFA will take a principled stance on Crimea either, particularly being that the Russian government's energy arm Gazprom sponsors its flagship Champions' League. And there we all were wondering why Gazprom would bother sponsoring the Champions' League. Isn't that clever? Match ticket €40. Replica shirt €60. Cutting off Ukraine's gas in winter? Priceless.

Will the Ukrainian FA challenge it? They should. Gibraltar took their case for FIFA/UEFA membership to the Court of Arbitration for Sport where they finally got justice. Kosovo are still battling for full FIFA membership. These things take time. They are not simply decided unilaterally by a single national football association under political coercion.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Current situation in Luhansk

From a friend who has close family in the area:

What they don't talk about on BBC: Lugansk (my hometown in the east of Ukraine) is now fully blocked by pro-Russian terrorists. There's currently no electricity or running water supply, no Internet, mobile or landline connection. People are completely cut off from the rest of the world. Those who try to leave through the so-called green corridor, risk being shot by the terrorists, vehicles are often confiscated and volunteers are kidnapped. Food and water supplies are scarce. Shelling doesn't cease throughout the day, people are too afraid to go outside and often spend days hiding in air raid shelters. Those with serious health problems are dying because they can't get medication. And it's just one town in Eastern Ukraine. Now, what is it but Russia-orchestrated genocide of the 21st century?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Україна потребує парламентську систему

Нова політична система України повинна бути найрадикальнішою з усіх на пострадянському просторі. Україна сьогодні – це чистий аркуш паперу і тепер вона не повинна прагнути побудувати чиюсь утопію. На сьогоднішній день, активність та компроміс являються основними ключами від виживання країни та її майбутнього добробуту.

Одне з основних завдань на сьогодні полягає у формуванні культури конституціоналізму. Теперішня влада зазнала легітимної кризи.  Капітуляція попередніх влад та їх голосування в переважній кількості щодо прийняття нових законів призвело до неочікуваного зворотного ефекту феномена "тушки" 2010 року. Відносини між депутатами та їх виборчими мандатами є нестабільні, беручи до уваги, що парламентські вибори 2012 року були проведені із недотриманням мінімальних демократичних стандартів.

І найпершим завданням має бути розуміння того, що політика більше не може бути пов’язана із позицією особистості у ній. Пострадянський рефлекс наслідування сильного духом лідера має катастрофічний вплив на всі регіони країни. Прийшов час кинути виклик Євразійському міфу, який наголошує на те, що ми всі різні. Цей міф вже коштував багатьом людям у Євразії їх життя і свобод.

Україна повинна прийняти абсолютну парламентську систему правління, якою користується більшість країн Європи. Президент повинен бути залишений тільки із правом на вето та з правом на призначення нових виборів. Сильний прем'єр-міністр може перейняти "президентський стиль" ведення політики, як наприклад, Маргарет Тетчер або Тоні Блер, але зверніть увагу на передачу влади від  Тетчер у 1990 році. Знана у світі як "залізна леді", в той час коли вона втратила підтримку своєї партії, її політична  сила зникла за лічені години. Існує і об’єктивне підтвердження тому, що парламентські системи, які при необхідності враховують більш широкий спектр зацікавлених сторін, мають кращі показники досягнення реформ.

Система функціонування партій також потребує реформи. Україна повинна викрити “віртуальні партії”, які функціонують виключно навколо особистостей і їх бізнес-інтересів і носять певний ідеологічний характер. Маємо працювати і з тими представниками політичних угрупувань, переконання яких, можливо, не повністю узгоджується із нашими переконаннями, адже партія представляє собою коаліцію з різнобічними інтересами.

Мати парламентську систему правління також означає підпорядкування правилам цієї системи. Не має проявитися жодної толерантності щодо  «гри на фортепіано на Майдані», насильств в тюрмах, блокування трибуни спікера, або будь-яких інших подібних заходів. Можливо, Верховна Рада має відігравати роль рефері  по відношенню до  депутат атів, що порушили протокол. В іншому випадку, спокуса зрізати кути буде дуже сильною, і ми досить ясно бачимо цей результат зараз.

Для того щоб зберегти єдність України, ми маємо замислитися над тим як задіяти усіх і кожного у політичному процесі. Ось де виникає дилема. Сьогодні є вкрай необхідно створити нові основні політичні норми на Україні і це безпосередньо стосується прийняття нової Конституції України. Якщо ми споглянемо на те, яким чином Янукович вніс дестабілізацію в конституційні структури України в 2010 році, вагомий аргумент підпадає на підтримку нових законів у першу чергу, але беззаперечно для легітимності таких дій, вся країна має бути задіяна.

І олігархи відіграють тут свою роль . Вони можуть продовжувати грати активну і впливову роль, так само, як,наприклад, республіканці роблять в Америці. Тим не менш, беручи до уваги цілеспрямованість країни вони повинні визнати, що їх найвпливовіший час вже проминув. Це означає, що ЄС має змогу зіграти ключову роль. Михайло Саакашвілі говорив про те, як непередбачувана загроза санкцій стала переломним моментом для багатьох прихильників Януковича. І якщо загроза санкцій від ЕС стосувалася економічних та політичних зловживань в більш поширених випадках до яких часто прибігають олігархи, то в такий спосіб було б можливим зменшити надмірні повноваження бізнес еліт України . Значно ускладнює цю ситуацію роль олігархів, які попри всі негаразди та невдачі попередньої влади  не зупинили її підтримку, навіть у той час коли ситуація різко погіршилася. Важко оцінити виняткову впливовість олігархів в політичному житті країни, в подальшому може виявитися і те, що їх впливовість стане неминучою.

Для того, щоб зауважити на всі відмінності регіонів України необхідно багато часу. На сьогодні Україні не вистачає політичної зрілості для федералізму. Проте в питаннях, що стосуються мовних прав, таке втручання може нести логічний характер, що  дозволить  деяку свободу на місцевому рівні. Наприклад у Франції, мови меншин можна побачити на дорожніх знаках,вони фінансуються за допомогою місцевих муніципалітетів, але національна мова має також бути відображена на дорожніх знаках (і місцевий муніципалітет платить і за це). Це насправді може стати чудовою рисою розвитку місцевої демократії. Відповідальність за святкування історичних подій, будь то 9 травня, або ж день українського повстанського руху, повинні також здійснюватися на місцевому рівні, адже на національному рівні ці питання виявилися занадто розбіжними. Такі емоційні питання більше не повинні бути пропагандистськими запалами або інструменти для політиків впливу в країні.

У відносинах з Росією довіра буде зменшуватися з кожним роком і Україна має захистити себе. В найближчому часі всі переговори на вищому рівні між Україною і Росією мають здійснюватися на терені третьої країни-посередника,а також дотримуватися дипломатичних норм. Ми не маємо допустити перенесення дипломатичних відносин у площину таємних зустрічей та залякувань, як це можна прослідити на прикладі відносин між Януковичем та Путіним. Необхідно докласти багато зусиль для того,щоб відносини між Україною та Росією стали прозорими. Ступінь саботажу зі сторони Росії щодо управління внутрішніми справами України протягом останніх кількох років очевидне. Більше дискусій мають проводитися серед публічного загалу, а також піддаватися детальній критиці.

Україна повинна продовжувати наполегливо працювати, що також підтверджує і те, що насправді, багато з українських установ вже і роблять. Зважаючи на всі події в новій історії України,  українці тепер розуміють, що майбутнє залежить від них. ЄС має бути прийнято в якості гаранта європейського майбутнього України, але українці не може повністю покладатися на це об’єднання держав.

Джонатан Хiбберд раніше був відвідуючим професором програми європейських досліджень в Києво-Могилянській академії і проживав в Україні протягом шести років. Зараз живе у Варшаві, але продовжує співпрацювати з науково-дослідницьким інститутом зовнішньої політики Дипломатичної академії України. Отримав ступінь Магістра  Університета Сассекса у Великобританії. Спеціалізується на українських відносин з ЄС і НАТО.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Comes after Non-Recognition?

Published in New Eastern Europe on 28th May 2014

After the election of a new president with a clear democratic mandate, there is much talk of Ukraine turning a corner, despite the turmoil in the east of the country. Indeed, the focus is now largely on those regions and whether they can remain a part of Ukraine, as well as the challenge of keeping the country from the edge of the economic precipice.
In the case of Crimea, two months since Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, there appears a widespread acceptance of the “facts on the ground” of Russian rule. The issue is already fading into the background amid fears of an even worse outcome.
In just over one month’s time, however, Europe will remember the 40th anniversary of an event which it has never accepted – the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots at the time feared coming under the rule of the Greek military junta. Russian speaking Crimeans, in contrast, were under no real threat and Moscow’s attempt to characterise the Kyiv authorities itself as a junta now look all the more absurd in the aftermath of the democratic election.
A new Northern Cyprus?
Northern Cyprus has many of the same “facts on the ground” – Turkish military bases, a language and culture distinct from the Greek-speaking south and an independent Republic of Northern Cyprus which was declared in 1983 and whose flag is ubiquitous, even from across the UN line of control. But in fact in 2004, 30 years after the Turkish intervention, Turkish Cypriots voted for a union with the Greek Cypriots in the south. Although this deal was rebuffed by the people of the south, it would have meant the wilful abandonment of the separatist project there, a paradigm shift from 30 years earlier.
To some extent therefore, the international policy of non-recognition of Northern Cyprus might be considered a success. To this day, the state of Northern Cyprus does not appear on maps and the serious prospect of international recognition of its statehood appears dead. This non-recognition manifests itself in a number of ways. Airlines are not permitted to fly to Northern Cyprus without touching down in Turkey first and major airlines do not fly there at all. Northern Cyprus passports are not recognised by any country other than Turkey, meaning that many Turkish Cypriots in fact travel on passports issued by the Republic of Cyprus. There is no official sporting recognition of the territory.
In Crimea’s case, the dust has yet to fully settle. The narrative in Moscow is of grand ceremonies and triumphalism. The head of Burger King in Russia jumped the gun by announcing they would expand into Crimea at some point, his enthusiasm most likely tempered by the head office in the United States. In sport, the Russian Football Federation has already proposed to hold this year’s Russian Super Cup in Simferopol and one of the peninsula’s two Ukrainian football league teams, FK Sevastopol, talks brazenly about switching from the Ukrainian to the Russian league. National Geographic and Google have already roused anger for showing the region as Russian territory, or disputed.
Day-to-day life tells a different story, as empty supermarket shelves, almost reminiscent of the Soviet era, and eight-hour-long queues for cash machines testify. Life for the indigenous Tatars looks to be getting progressively worse as the ban on the recent commemoration of their 1944 deportation by Stalin illustrates. The exiled Mustafa Dzhemilev, former head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and a figurehead for the Tatar community, already looks like a kind of Dalai Lama figure. Meanwhile plans are afoot to confiscate Tatar property in prime locations. The issue of flights in and out of the territory remains unsettled. Ukrainian Railways however, far from halting train services to the peninsula, recently started taking advanced payment for the summer season.
What should non-recognition entail?
If Ukraine and the international community are serious about upholding the non-recognition of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, serious thought needs to be given as to how this will be done in practice or it will have little meaning and Russia will be emboldened to take similar action elsewhere. Crimea may appear a lost cause now, but looking to a future post-Putin epoch, the situation could be very different. Non-recognition policy is by its nature a tricky and inconsistent area as the balance between damaging the occupier and risking harming those occupied is difficult to strike.
We need only look at the Baltic states as an example. Forty years after their occupation by the Soviet Union, few were anticipating their independence.  In this case, as countries rather than just regions, the trappings of the state were an important manifestation of non-recognition. As Baltic analyst Mel Huang explains, the United States maintained this policy throughout, continuing to fly their flags in the State Department and keeping legations open. Upon their regaining independence, the United Kingdom was able to return the gold reserves to Estonia which had been shipped out as a contingency in the late 1930s. Others dropped the ball, handing to the Soviet Union gold reserves and keys to their embassies. The newly independent states in the 1990s received compensation or return of property from some, but from others nothing.
Although state symbols don’t apply in the case of Crimea, President-elect Petro Poroshenko’s proposed Ministry for Crimean Affairs might perform a function akin to a government in exile. With the situation continuing to deteriorate for the Tatars, Ukraine should be ready to provide the means for the continuation of Tatar civil society. If the Tatar council, the Mejlis, becomes unable to function, Ukraine should be ready to host a Mejlis in exile. Ukraine should also think more broadly about how to ensure Crimeans (as well as eastern Ukrainians) maintain a stake in Ukraine’s political life. One way to do this would be to continue to maintain a proportion of seats in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) as constituency mandates, representing all the internationally recognised regions of Ukraine.
Ukraine will undoubtedly continue to pursue a ruling on the Crimea annexation from the International Court of Justice. In the Northern Cyprus case, according to Ilke Gürdal of the Eastern Mediterranean University, the UN’s 1984 denouncement of its declaration of independence in 1983 seemed to make things worse for Northern Cyprus. The trade blockade of the territory intensified in its aftermath, thus dealing a blow to the separatist project at an early stage. The Crimea case may face fundamental difficulties as neither Russia nor Ukraine recognises the ICJ on a standing basis and Russia is unlikely to agree to the second mechanism of a case-by-case basis. Ukraine may decide to recognise its universal jurisdiction in the near future and, as Crimea is still theoretically Ukraine, this may be enough for the case to be heard.
The symbolic importance of sport should also not be underestimated. The move of Crimea’s two Ukrainian league teams to the Russian league should not be permitted by UEFA and FIFA (although in practice it may be sneaked through during this summer’s World Cup). This may be a vain hope. Gazprom sponsors UEFA’s lucrative Champions League whilst FIFA has not entertained talk of stripping Russia of the right to host the 2018 World Cup. At the very least Crimean venues should not be used as host cities or training bases at the tournament. It takes the action of individual member countries to make a fuss, much as, for example, Spain did in preventing Gibraltar’s accession to UEFA for many years.
What is the endgame?
Whether or not we ever see Crimea fully reincorporated into Ukraine, Ukraine is the lynchpin of a legitimate solution. Whether Crimea is part of Russia or Ukraine, the region must have genuine autonomy. The region’s autonomy within Ukraine failed to deliver this. The use of Ukrainian on official signage belied the region’s special status, whilst the Crimean Tatar language was rarely to be seen. In the Russian case, as the Russian Federation is a federation in name only, there is little hope or evidence that Crimea will achieve true autonomy that takes into account the diversity of the region. The closure of Ukrainian language schools there is not a good start. Another option in the long term could even be independence, a scenario in which the different ethnic groups would be required to work together. As in Northern Cyprus, Crimea now faces having to confront the issue of property restitution down the line (on top of the fact that the Tatars have still not been properly compensated for their 1944 expulsion).
If Ukraine is to ever regain the territory, much will depend on what it does now, the success of its reform programme and the ability to build a viable economy and investment climate. The capacity of Ukrainians to build a successful country might weaken the will of Crimeans to remain a part of Russia. If the EU follows through and grants visa free travel to Ukrainians, as it has now done for Moldova, the idea of holding a Russian passport rather than a Ukrainian one begins to lose its appeal. For Crimea, it might be the beginning of a long road back.
Jonathan Hibberd, based in Warsaw, is an alumni of Sussex European Institute in the UK and works part time with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Ukraine, having previously lectured in European Studies at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ukraine voters can put Ukraine on the path to democratic legitimacy

Ukraine's presidential election is the first step to solving its government's legitimacy problem

It has not been an easy start for Ukraine's new authorities, who have had to deal with annexation, armed insurgency, rescuing the national economy from the precipice and organising a presidential election no less. A baptism of fire by anyone's standards. The annexation of Crimea came when the new incumbents had barely sat at their desks. The violent provocations in the east and south of the country are unprecedented in Ukraine's 23 years of independence, whilst Russia has a 23 year track record of violence in the Caucasus and terrorism in its cities. Draw your own conclusions about where this outbreak of 'civil war' in Ukraine has in fact come from. 
To add to that, the current authorities have absurdly and maliciously been labeled a 'junta' by pro-Moscow tweeters and bloggers scratching around for a smear term (the only true junta that has ever existed in Eastern Europe was the early 80s junta in Poland, which was backed by the USSR), part of a well worn tradition of concept stretching by Russia. Kiev is not a 'junta' any more than Greenpeace activists are 'pirates' or 'hooligans', or indeed gay rights campaigners 'propagandists'. Despite this however, it is true enough to say that the government since its traumatic beginnings has lacked true democratic legitimacy, and therefore Sunday's presidential elections are the crucial first step in solving a legitimacy problem with Ukraine's governance which in fact goes back to 2010.
When Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in early 2010, parliament was still under the mandate of the 'orange parties' of Prime Minister Tymoshenko and former President Yushchenko. What then followed was a spectacular capitulation of the whole constitutional order. The Constitutional Court, re-stuffed with judges loyal to Yanukovych, ruled that parliamentary deputies could now switch sides, the problem being that, with Ukraine's closed list electoral system, this is  tantamount to your vote growing legs and walking away from you. The defectors were dubbed 'tushki', a term meaning animal corpse. The standard of parliamentarianism thereafter soon became abysmal, with 'piano playing' (deputies pressing the voting buttons of absent members), as in the Russian Duma, becoming standard practice, and even savage beatings meted out to Yanukovych opponents. Votes were sometimes registered for MPs who were not even in the country at the time. The 2012 parliamentary elections followed electoral reforms designed to favour the President's Party of Regions. The introduction of a proportion of constituency MPs favoured the ruling parties, and electoral commissions were staffed by personnel from these same ruling parties. Unlike the previous three national elections (two parliamentary, one presidential, the election was not judged internationally to have been free and fair.
Fast forward to February this year, and whilst the voice of the people was finally being heard, the speed with which MPs hurriedly switched sides again following Yanukovych's exit in February was, constitutionally speaking, little better than the 'tushki' of four years earlier. Just as in 2010 a 'winner takes all' mentality saw now vulnerable deputies scrambling to save their careers and positions. There was of course a huge difference however. The new authorities from the outset took power on the promise of elections. We must remember that if not for Euromaidan, Ukraine might now have been looking ahead to years or decades without such free elections, the situation which predominates in the countries of the Customs Union that Yanukovych would have taken them into, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan 
What must follow these elections is constitutional reform that will guard against the monopolisation and abuse of power of the past several years. Ukraine should adopt a parliamentary system, the kind which has lead successful reforms in the likes of Poland or Czech Republic, and resist the urge to revert to the presidential model which has in contrast failed its citizens so miserably in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine must also figure out how it manages its multiculturalism without allowing the country to disintegrate. There is scope for delegating local language and schooling policy to muncipal level, as well as the dvisive issue of historical commemorations, but Ukraine lacks the political maturity for full blown federalism, so this should wait for now. Fears about Ukraine becoming a series of fiefdoms under that scenario are well founded.
It is also a sobering reality that they will have to face their challenges largely without the backing of the international community. Whilst the European Union has rightly put on the table a deal to allow Ukraine to access the internal market, there is plenty from member states to suggest that the EU's backing can't be relied upon, owing to the EU member states' deep ties to Russia. Whether it be German industry, French warships, Spanish ports or London's financial sector, there is little suggest that these countries will do very much to support the freedom of Ukrainians. Ukraine's road ahead looks a lonely one. The new President will need all the collective wisdom he can muster.
The presidential election must be followed as soon as possible by a parliamentary one. A proportion of constituency mandates must be maintained to represent occupied Crimea and the districts currently ravaged by the Russian-sponsored insurgency. The new parliament must adhere to new standards of parliamentarianism so that the abuses of the past four years cannot be repeated. If it does this, the legitimacy problem can finally be consigned to history.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Europe's New Northern Cyprus?

Non-recognition of Crimea's status as part of Russia must be more than just words

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Western leaders have all been quick to proclaim non-recognition of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Yet just days after what could only very charitably be called a referendum on Crimea joining Russia (including a creditable 123% vote in favour in Simferopol and minus any option to remain in the country it has existed in for the past two decades) it seems the world is grudgingly accepting the inevitable, having offered only meagre sanctions, and apparently relieved that Russia appears to have settled for 'only Crimea'. If they're not careful their 'no business as usual' mantra will soon sound as tired and hollow as their 'red lines'.

In truth, Russia would probably have annexed it or set up a breakaway state there along with Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early '90s had it not massively underestimated Ukraine's divergent political direction from that of Russia. It's difficult to see whether this will fulfil Putin's aim of bringing Ukraine as a whole 'back into the fold'; the two countries now have different sides of a historical grievance to rally around.

In the here and now, clearly the most immediate pressing concern is Ukraine's isolated military units in the peninsula. Whilst both their fortitude and restraint are commendable, there is no international military backing for them whatsoever, and if more of their lives are to be spared, it seems inevitable they will have to withdraw.

Then we must consider the issue of status. There is little prospect of a treaty or formal agreement here. Making any such agreement with Russia would be a catch 22, as making any new agreement would involve formally tearing up a previous one (the 1994 Budapest Memorandum). In so doing, what possible validity could a new agreement have if it could be torn up so easily? Therefore non-recognition seems the only way forward.

For this non-recognition to make any sense however we need to figure out what non-recognition will mean in practice. Non-recognition is absolutely right, but the problem is that if Crimea is treated as a part of the Russian Federation it basically will be.  So the wherewithal of non-recognition and how it could work needs to be figured out quite quickly. As an example, Northern Cyprus is never shown on basic maps as anything other than part of the Republic of Cyprus, and this has never lapsed in 40 years. There was for a long time even a trade ban on the export of Northern Cyprus products, abolished only in 2003. Here Greece was the force to push this forward. Ukraine will be in a stronger position to push once the DCFTA with the EU is up and running.

As regards measures on the ground, non-recognition might involve cutting transport links. It seems to me that it would be adding insult to injury to allow Russian Railways to continue to operate trains to Crimea, merely 'transiting' Ukraine proper, and this is an obvious means of sanctioning the tourism industry there. There is a case for cutting rail links between Crimea and mainland Ukraine altogether in fact. In the case of Northern Cyprus, only flights from Turkey can fly into the territory. The same blockade might be enacted by the international community here. Alternative connections could be built up via, for example, Odessa.

Energy and water are also key issues. Many have pointed out that, with the ability to cut off the peninsula's water and electricity, Kiev has a potential card to play. If the prospect of a gas cut off rears its head once more, this is obviously an option. There will have to be some restraint however. A closure of the border similar to the closure the Spanish inflicted on Gibraltar for many years would only hurt families on both sides.

There should be vigorous public campaigns against organisations endorsing the change. For example, early rumours that National Geographic is to change its map may be the start of a capitulation that must be resisted through any means available. Disregarding all other arguments, it can simply be pointed out that no major power has recognised the occupation and that the case is yet to go before the International Court of Justice.

Sport is also a factor. UEFA could play a useful role in non-recognition of Crimea's Russian status. Tavriya Simferopol and FK Sevastopol currently play in the Ukrainian Premier League and should continue to do so, and UEFA has the power to make such decisions. In in albeit more innocuous example, France's Evian TG FC were refused permission to play home games across the Swiss border in Geneva as it was in another state. On this basis UEFA should refuse to allow any teams from Crimea to participate in the Russian league structure, and threaten trouble if they do, with Russia's participation in the 2014 and hosting of the 2018 tournament potentially at risk. FIFA has always taken a hard line on political interference in the running of football (at least with African countries) so it should be difficult for Russia to force UEFA's or FIFA's hand. 

Finally, there is the question of the endgame. Even the most optimistic would be hard pressed to think that Crimea will ever truly return to Ukrainian rule. Whilst before the Russian intervention it seems there wasn't a majority in favour of Russian rule, it will be equally difficult several years down the line to expect a majority to be in favour of Ukrainian rule. But it is reasonable to hope for a more legitimate settlement in Crimea in future. Little will be possible without democracy, and with Putin's situation apparently strengthened, there is little hope for the time being, but this illustrates the need for non-recognition to be maintained, for decades if need be, as with Northern Cyprus.

What Crimeans need to realise is that the dismantling of the Ukrainian letters on the front of the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea represents, in effect, the dismantling of autonomy. The Russian Federation is a federation in name only, and Putin has progressively abolished autonomy across the country during his rule. A once ambitious plan for Kaliningrad, for example, to be a 'Baltic Republic' using both the rouble and the Euro and forming a gateway to the EU was, with Putin's accession to power, promptly shelved. Look at Kaliningrad now-a neglected backwater from which Russians flock across the border to shop at cheaper Polish supermarkets. Crimea is also, for now, doomed to become such a backwater, and they will see that last week's fake foray into democracy bears little relation to the future, where elections will offer no genuine choice and factual information, from a media which has moved from bias to full on North Korea style propaganda, will be scarce.

In a post-Putin scenario however, the issue will almost certainly be revisited. It could be argued that, in a democratised Russia, if given true autonomy, with full language rights for minorities, there would be little reason to complain about Russian rule. If Tatar, for example, appeared on bilingual street signs alongside Russian, few could complain. Another proposal might be independence, and a parallel might be drawn with Slovakia, where a 10% Hungarian minority, despite many tensions, ensures that the rights of minorities are addressed. An independent Crimea would have a 15% Tatar minority and a significant Ukrainian population, so in a democratic scenario, the communities would each have to be taken seriously. If by then however the non-recognition policy has lapsed, that opportunity will be lost.

Remember that after three decades of occupation, the Turkish population of Northern Cyprus in 2004 actually voted in favour of reunion with the south. Many of them have taken Republic of Cyprus citizenship (not surprisingly as this is also EU citizenship). Ukraine should consider changing the law to allow dual citizenship for all those in Crimea who wish to remain Ukrainian (it would also be in the wider interests of a country which has consistently lost citizens since 1991). A lot depends on the capacity of Ukrainians to build a successful country that will weaken the will of Crimeans to keep it in Putin's prison. If the EU follows through and grants visa free travel to Ukrainians, as it will do for Moldovans this May, the idea of having a 'Russkiy pasport' already begins to lose its appeal. For Crimea, it might be the beginning of a long road back.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Identity stretching in Eastern Ukraine

So, if the Russian flag kindly raised on Kharkiv's city hall by a young man from Moscow means anything, Eastern Ukrainians are all now 'Russians', and those bad people in Kiev are 'Ukrainians'. Hang on. A 'pro-Russian' government has only just been ousted, one member of which, the hated education minister Tabachnyk, had a strong view on 'Ukrainians'. For him, the easterners are the real 'Ukrainians', whilst the Western Ukrainians are not Ukrainians at all, but 'Galicians'.

One wonders what Eastern Ukrainians really think of this sudden makeover of their identities. Even the oligarchs have made great play of Eastern Ukrainians being 'Ukrainians'. Two of Ukraine's group games at Euro 2012 were staged in Donetsk, most likely at the behest of the Donbas Arena's owner, Rinat Akhmetov. Clearly people in the east feel closer to Russia than other Ukrainians, but that's still some way off being Russian. How will they adjust to their sudden new identities? Most likely, being habitually ruled by fear, they continue to superficially go about their daily lives and conform to prescribed behaviour from whoever seems to be in charge.